6 October 2017

Liberia: 'UP Stalwarts Chop U.S.$45 Million'

Unity Party stalwarts are alleged to have chopped US$45 million from Liberian taxpayers during the Ebola healthcare emergency from a controversial telecom deal in December 2011 to implement an International Gateway Management System (IGMS).

Ebola, which took the lives of 4,810 Liberians and affected livelihoods throughout the country hit the following year in 2014 brought in thousands of international aid workers and created a flood of calls from the Diaspora checking on loved ones.

As a result, according to industry experts with inside knowledge of international call volumes during crises, the estimated volume of international calls to Liberia increased 20-fold during the Ebola crisis from 2014 - 2015.

The alleged lucrative contract was signed between the Liberian Telecommunications Authority (LTA), Global Voice Group (GVG) and Conex Telecommunications Incorporated, a local shadow company reportedly created five days before the deal by one Sheriff Abdullah, who is alleged to be a stalwart of Unity Party.

The scheme taxed all incoming international calls $0.14 USD per minute and split that revenue between stakeholders. According to LTA annual revenue data for the period of January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013, the first full year of the scheme, IGMS produced US$11,228,033.05 in total revenue for stakeholders. This means that the IGMS scheme took in US$224,560,660 during the Ebola crisis.

It is alleged that some individuals believe to be Unity Party stalwarts received US$44,912,132 as their share.

GVG is said to have attempted similar corrupt deals in the past. They were kicked out of Senegal and Haiti for business practices revealed as scams that distorted local telecommunications markets. GVG's shady deals with corrupt officials are well documented. A 2010 exposé in The Africa Report called GVG's scheme The Great Telephone Racket.

In 2011 and 2012 local advocacy groups, Campaigners for Change scrutinized the deal, calling it "corrupt" and demanding that the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) investigate. The case was never taken up by the LACC even though the LTA stopped making annual revenue data publicly available in 2013.

The IGMS scheme was not renewed by the Government of Liberia in 2016 and The NEWS has learned that Global Witness is likely to view the paper trail on the GVG transaction.

Responding to the allegation, Unity Party said it does not know any Sheriff Abdullah. The party said Abdullah is not a partisan of UP as being alleged. The party further said it has no idea about the reported deal.


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